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Last updated: 07 Nov, 2021  

Diwali.9.Thmb.jpg Diwali fest as a tool of 'Soft Power'

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Nirendra Dev | 07 Nov, 2021
The move by US lawmakers led by Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney from New York to get a new draft law that would declare Diwali as a federal holiday is a landmark event of our time.

After Yoga, we now have Diwali - the festival of Light and Sound -- as a symbol of India's Soft Power.

Statesmanship, mutual benefits, and strategic significance, not necessarily in that order, decide foreign policy ball games in the contemporary settings. Now, it is time to add 'Soft Power' as a major tool. The emphasis is bigger and more thrustful in the post pandemic era.

Without realising much, we now know that the world is changing pretty fast. The 'great resignation' saga as witnessed by MNCs is a case in point.

For beginners, a Microsoft study says nearly 40 per cent of professionals are keen to give up their existing jobs in the current calendar year. Welcome to a new world era wherein the civilisational and cultural prisms too could prove to be effective tools in the changed world order.

Perhaps this can be underlined better also in the context of developments in Afghanistan and some roles played by Pakistan. Religiosity can have a soothing impact for someone who uses these occasions to gaze in within oneself. These virtues are appreciated in advanced societies as materialistic achievements have made people lonely and friendless.

More than creating 'segments' like Hindu culture or fest, certain things are emerging now as a global phenomenon. The timing of Diwali festival in between autumn and winter is not something to be lost. The light and sound kill some bacteria in the air - that's for the rational school; and in pursuing this argument, one knows the problems lay in overdoing things.

Bursting of firecrackers would have been pleasant and a tasteful experience had not this become a symbol of showmanship. If firecrackers are bad for the environment, so is gambling and the so-called gift-exchange culture of Delhi for human behaviour. Here too, the problem is in overdoing things; not ordering a blanket ban as a presumed corrective strategy.

The global recognition by the UN and ongoing craze for Yoga and a renewed zeal for festivals such as Deepawali have some messages. Of these, the big picture message is - the international game can be no longer about pushing a single-agenda item.

Soft power games also means persuasive diplomacy. It may be out of the box, but not something to be dismissed as out of the blue. Life is often like standing in the dusk, to use poetic jargon. It is all about optimism. Optimism leads to patience. The storm would pass off eventually, no matter how long it is.

This is a major takeaway from oriental teachings and India's perspectives. That's the essence of India's civilisational "soft power" strength too. Diwali symbolises glory of virtues over vices like most festivals and rituals across the globe.

Switching on to another chapter now, there are observers who say that Indians thrive on self pity and that's why we Indians often continue to curse ourselves. The polarization of India's intellectual class is so deep that it is difficult to express an opinion and that would still be considered an objective one.

If one writes a few lines on Hindu festivals and oriental traditions and values, he is in danger of being called a communal! But the fact of life is that some Indian and, for that matter, Hindu fests have attracted attention and excitement globally. This has not happened because Indians can influence the outcome in an US election, this is also because people see merit in some of these festivals and practices.

The festival of light and sound which essentially marks the victory of Good over Evil and Knowledge over Ignorance is being celebrated with religious zeal in countries such as the UAE, Canada, the African nations and Malaysia. In many countries, Diwali has made a mark as a festival of share and care. People also do charity work at orphanages and old age homes.

It is worth mentioning that in 2016 in the context of Art of Living's World Culture Festival in Delhi, none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, "We (Indians) can make contribution (of India's soft power) only when we ourselves feel proud of our culture. But if we continue to curse ourselves, then how will the world look towards us. The world is not only united by concerns of economic growth, but also by human values and India can play a vital role in it."

The motive of building a predefined narrative against Hindu fests and practices, if any, has thus fallen flat.

(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books, 'The Talking Guns: North East India' and 'Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth' )
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